This summer, a number of young players from across the United States were selected to play for the US at the relatively unknown 5 Nations Tournament, a contest for various U17 teams held in Slovakia. The competition consisted of the opponents Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic and play was conducted in a simple round robin format.
For many of the young men aged 16 and 17, this was their first time abroad, much less to play in international hockey contests, and served as an enlightening and eye-opening experience.
The sojourn to the relatively new country of Slovakia, which first waved its own flag on January 1st, 1993, proved to be quite a successful one for the USA Hockey program. The U17 team started off its preparation by watching the nation’s U18 team battle its way into the gold medal final of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where it lost 4-0 to Canada. The U17 team then played a test game against Slovakia (a 4-2 win) and continued on to win the 5 Nations Tournament, proving victorious in all four contests, scoring 24 goals and only allowing six goals against. Along the way, they defeated the Czech Republic 5-2, Switzerland 7-1, Germany 9-2, and Slovakia 3-1.
One of the key contributors to this strong goal difference was defenseman Steven Ruggiero, who is spending this regular season getting his feet wet in the USHL as a 16-year-old. Despite his young age, the Kings Park, NY native is already a hulking 6’3” and 186 pounds. At the moment, he’s only seen action in one of the NTDP squad’s 10 games, in which he has tallied one goal, six penalty minutes and a +4 rating.
The key contributor up front for the US was Burnsville, MN native Brock Boeser (pronounced ‘Besser’) who is scheduled to be spending this season with his hometown high school team. He led all scorers at the tournament with five goals, nine points and a +8 rating. The right-shooting forward currently weighs in at 5’11” and 175 pounds and will be one of the most highly watched high school players in a state that arguably features the best high school hockey in the country.
With the goal of taking a closer look at the names and faces of tomorrow, Hockey’s Future got to chat with these two young impressive performers during their stay in Slovakia.
Hockey’s Future: You boys just played a test game against a tough Team Slovakia here in Bratislava. What are some of the impressions you’re taking from it?
Brock Boeser: I thought it was really fun. It was an adjustment figuring out how they play. We had to adapt to their style of play, which was more finesse and not so physical. We felt we needed to hit a lot to get them off their game.
HF: Steven, you scored the game-winning goal in this test game. How are you feeling about that?
Steven Ruggiero: I thought it felt awesome. It was an awesome experience to come out and play with these guys. One of my buddies in the team from back home set me up with a pass and it was awesome to win the game, so it was really exciting to be here.
HF: You fellas have been here for a couple of days and you even caught a bit of the Ivan Hlinka tournament. What were your impressions of that?
SR: Definitely want to be there for that tournament next year. That’s for sure. We know some of those guys pretty well and they play real hard. I’d like to be part of that next year, because it just seems like such a great experience.
BB: I felt it’s definitely one of those tournies you want to play in. It was very fast-paced and the players seemed older and more mature. I hope to be able to come here next year, be part of that and then win a gold medal for Team USA.
HF: You’re about to play the 5 Nations Tournament here in Slovakia against Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Do you know anything about these teams other than what you just saw against Slovakia today?
BB: Nope. Not a thing to be honest.
SR: I thought the team we played today was a skilled team. They could all skate. They battled hard. If that’s any indication of what’s to come, then every game here is going to be real tough.
HF: So this is a whole new experience. Is this your first time in Europe? If so, what have your impressions of Slovakia been thus far?
SR: It’s my first time over here. We currently have no AC in the hotel, so we’re struggling with that a bit as it’s like 90-some degrees outside. The food is not too bad. We’re getting along with that alright. It’s a good country, but I definitely prefer the States.
BB: Yep, same for me. As for the country thus far, the AC thing has been a struggle. We had to find a department store and purchase some fans for the rooms. I’m not a big fan of the food yet, but you have to deal with it and that’s just the way it is. The ice time has been the best. I really enjoy being with these boys and hitting the ice with them.
HF: Where did the team meet up? Did you fly over separately? How long have you been here and how long will you ultimately be staying?
SR: We all met up in Washington DC and then practiced a few days there before we made the trip over together. It’s definitely been a little bit of an adjustment crossing the ocean, but so far it’s been going well and I’m having a good time of it.
HF: Brock, how did you become part of the USA Hockey program that has brought you here?
BB: Well, I pretty much made it to the national camp and then, from the players that were there, they selected this team that’s here now.
HF: So what about this upcoming season? Where are you guys going to be and what are the chief aspects of your game that you’re going to be working on?
BB: I’m planning on playing high school hockey in Minnesota for Burnsville. I’d say my D-zone coverage needs to improve. Also, I broke my ankle last December and was then busy getting healthy again. I’m going to be working on my game in all of its facets. Stickhandling, shooting – just everywhere.
SR: I’ll be spending this season with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL. As for my game, I will be working on everything. Basically, every aspect of my game needs improvement. Everything has to get ramped up, especially in that league. Skating, passing, making decisions quicker – the whole nine yards.
HF: Picture yourself being asked by an NHL scout what you think your best attributes are at this juncture. What would you tell that person?
SR: I’m a real two-way defenseman. I have a good stick. I can get the puck up the ice quickly. I can get involved in the offensive play.
BB: I’d say I’m a two-way player who gives his best effort all the time to make plays.
HF: Steven, your name rings a bell. Does hockey run in your family? Do you have any relatives who play?
SR: No, not at all. I’ve only got one little sister and she’s just a cheerleader. That’s about it. I’m the lone hockey solider in the family.
HF: And lastly, Brock, I understand you may already be committed to an NCAA program. Is this true?
BB: Yes, I am. I’ve committed to the University of Wisconsin.
Follow Chapin Landvogt on Twitter via @Csomichapin